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Norwich Town

Norwich Town Hall is located at 300 Main Street, Norwich, VT 05055; phone: 802-649-1419.

Beginnings [1]

Norwich is one of four adjoining towns in the Upper Valley to receive charters granted on July 4, 1761, by Governor Benning Wentworth. The other towns are Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Vermont. Norwich's first settlers came, as did those of the other towns, principally from north central Connecticut; they travelled northward almost 200 miles up the Connecticut River and, in many cases, named their new towns for their previous ones.

Generally, the men whose names appear on the charters—the grantees or proprietors—were not the ones who settled the new land, but were the older and more established inhabitants of their Connecticut towns; the younger men, those with the strength and skills to be pioneers, to build sawmills and gristmills, to clear the forests, were the ones to undertake the hardships of the move. In 1763, a few settlers came to Norwich and located close to the river and in the Pompanoosuc area. The first clearing in the township was made by John Fenton and Ebenezer Smith, both proprietors, and Fenton's nephew John Slafter, son of proprietor Samuel Slafter.

The exploration and "sizing up" of the chartered township, which was "to contain six miles square, and no more, ..." began in 1764. Jacob Burton of Preston, encouraged by the proprietors in Connecticut, made the journey north. He had the knowledge and the ability to build and operate a mill, take the measure of the region, and survey. He determined suitable spots on Blood Brook for a sawmill and a gristmill. The location of roads and lots needed to be planned, and there were other conditions laid out in the Norwich town charter with which the settlers would have to comply. Burton's own permanent dwelling was constructed in 1767.

Among other early comers to Norwich were Samuel and John Hutchinson, who arrived in 1765. They cleared an island in the Connecticut River, planted corn on it, then returned to Connecticut; the next year they came to stay. Nathan Messenger also arrived in 1765; his cabin is thought to have been located near the Norwich end of the Ledyard Bridge.

The confluence of the Ompompanoosuc and the Connecticut Rivers came to be known as Pompanoosuc. Union Village in the northeastern part of the town, is also on the Ompompanoosuc. By 1795, a gristmill had been established there. Beaver Meadow (West Norwich) now a small community, had its beginning in 1780 when its first settler, Conant B. Sawyer, came from Hebron, Connecticut. Lewiston, of which little remains, was located near the west end of the Ledyard Bridge. Dr. Joseph Lewis settled here near the bank of the Connecticut River in 1767 and owned much of the surrounding land. It was here that an early ferry provided transportation to the Hanover side of the river. John Sargeant, the original operator (at least as early as 1771, and probably in 1770) had a continuing conflict with Dartmouth College founder Eleazar Wheelock over the ferry and because Sargeant's tavern apparently provided liquor for Wheelock's students. Lewiston's demise came with the construction of the Wilder Dam in 1950 and of Interstate 91 in 1968.

Norwich Center must be remembered for several reasons. It was here, on Meeting House Hill, that Peter Olcott built his first house and barn in 1773. Olcott was a leading citizen of the town, serving in various town and state offices, including that of lieutenant governor; he was also a trustee of Dartmouth College. The first church in Norwich was built at the Center on land given by Olcott. Begun in 1778, it was finally finished in 1785. For about two weeks that same year, the Center Church served as the meeting place of the Vermont legislature. All that remains now of Norwich Center is the burial ground on Meeting House Hill and whatever archeological evidence remains of some 10 homes, shops, and offices.

Union Village, Pompanoosuc, Beaver Meadow, and Lewiston are all rather clearly defined places, but in addition there are settlements that did not develop business or commercial places. Rather, they are distinctive and more nearly neighborhoods: Podunk, New Boston, and Tiger Town.

  1. Town of Norwich, Norwich in the 21st Century, The Norwich Town Plan, 2006,, accessed November, 2011.
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